Friday, November 5, 2010

Thinking and Un-thinking [Part 2]

A continuation on the essay from where we left off last time. This is the final part!

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This question of infinite-within-finite is something that had boggled me…It is something that mathematics had explored through the elementary concept of integration (summing up an infinite number of parts to arrive at a finite value rather than an infinite one). Thinking un-mathematically about the idea, however, is one way that one can easily hit the idea of God; borrowing from the spirit of the First Cause argument or (its derivative) the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Consider this: If we are to assume that there is an infinite number of experiences available in the universe, and if we follow the definition of ‘mind’ as a finite concept capable of understanding and evaluating an infinite number of possibilities for thought and feeling, then it follows that there must be one mind capable of registering all those experiences. In other words, it is logical to conclude that all the possible thoughts and experiences can be put in one particular mindset. And if we are ever to find a human with such a mind, it would follow that this human’s mind is infinite. The premise we’re making here is that it’s impossible to find a human with such a nature, since human minds are finite (as previously proven). Therefore, such a being would not be human. If that being exists, that being is God.

Which brings us to another question: Does God approve of cogito, ergo sum? In other words; is God’s existence similar to our limited understanding of ourselves; as beings with certainty in existence of our own minds, and uncertainty in our conceptions of ourselves and our physical appearance? To put it in more simpler terms, I guess the question we should ask for is: How does God see Himself? Such a perception is more religious than theological; it is something we should consider in the context of one’s own belief system. For example; Catholics will tell you that God (the Father) perceives of Himself and that perception is the Son; the love and connection between the Son and the Father is the Holy Spirit. Which would naturally give God a Trinitarian nature; a fundamental theological movement of mainstream Christianity. Muslims will tell you God perceives of Himself as the ultimate existence. By ‘ultimate existence’ we mean the only certain existence in mindset and physicality. Any other being is incapable of having such a certainty in both elements of mindset and physicality; according to the infamous cogito, ergo sum.

So it would be interesting to explore this Muslim side of things and allow the reader to observe how it can differ from other theological approaches in different religions in substance and thought. The Qura’n states in its Arabic form:
وسع كل شيئ علما
“..all things He comprehends in His knowledge.”
God’s omniscience is stressed on many other locations in the Qura’n including in Surat Al-Ana’am [Cattle / Chapter 6] verse 59:
وَعِنْدَهُ مَفَاتِحُ الْغَيْبِ لا يَعْلَمُهَا إِلَّا هُوَ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَمَا تَسْقُطُ مِنْ وَرَقَةٍ إِلَّا يَعْلَمُهَا وَلا حَبَّةٍ فِي ظُلُمَاتِ الأَرْضِ وَلا رَطْبٍ وَلا يَابِسٍ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مُبِينٍ
With Him are the keys of the unseen, the treasures that none knoweth but He. He knoweth whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf doth fall but with His knowledge: there is not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry (green or withered), but is (inscribed) in a record clear (to those who can read).”
…and in Surat Taha [Ta-Ha / Chapter 20] in verse 7:
يعلم السر و أخفى
“…He knoweth what is secret and what is yet more hidden.

A central part of the Islamic perception of God would be the question: Is God’s omniscience a condition for his omnipotence? In other words, does God have to know how to be omnipotent in order to be omnipotent or do we have to consider these two attributes on completely different grounds? We can say that God’s omnipotence depends on His knowledge of how to be omnipotent. However, we are forced to equally say that God’s omniscience depends on His power to become omniscient. It would seem that the two arguments circulate around themselves, which is true. It, therefore, follows that God is omnipotent if and only if He is omniscient; each implies the other from the pair of arguments we just talked about.

The moral of the story would be that, in terms of the Islamic perception of God, a question of ‘how’ or ‘what’ with a being with omnipotence and omniscience would be redundant. The omniscience answers the ‘what’ and the omnipotence answers the ‘how’. However, neither attributes fully describe the ‘why’. This is the most meaningful question of all. As Stephen Hawking would put it; if we somehow reach a complete theory of physical sciences, we would be able to take part in answering a question that had only been answered by religious belief: why is it that we and the universe exist. And, still quoting Hawking here, if we can answer that question, we would have reached the mind of God. This is true in every sense; it is only through omniscience of all physical sciences (through the complete theory proposed by Hawking and, before him, Albert Einstein) of the world around us that we can ever hope to comprehend the reasons the Creator would offer for His choices.

I say, ‘hope to comprehend’, because, even then, we would not be as sure. As you can see, cogito, ergo sum goes in and spoils all the fun! The complete theory would be our basis of understanding the physical world around us; a world of which we are philosophically unsure of even existing in its current physical form. So, modestly adding to Professor Hawking’s thoughts, we can say that a complete theory would give us a complete perception of our physical world and why it exists as we currently perceive it. We would know a little bit about how God thinks, yes. It still remains open to debate whether another perception of the world exists or not; and until all questions of different perceptions are covered through a complete theory; it would seem rather snobbish to say that we would know the mind of God any time before that. In fact, saying that we will never reach the mind of God is optimistic when compared to the reality of the matter: that we are logically incapable of understanding the mind of God. Our mind is bound, as we explored before, incapable of picturing another perception than what it receives from external stimuli. This idea, seemingly dark and almost illogical to the atheist is a source of hope and peace to the religious in its inherent simplicity. And while the atheist may call it madness; the religious preserve another word for it: belief.

2 comments:

Mimi said...

Masha Allah. You're amazing. Smart and intelligent. God bless!

Hamdy Elgammal said...

Thank you Mimi for such kind words; I'm glad you stopped by ^_^